Art Judd wants to save your life. That’s why he’s been teaching the same wilderness survival workshop at Santa Fe Community College for 25 years. Even now, he sees potential students wherever he goes. “I come back from a hike and see people just starting out at 4 or 5 [pm] wearing only a T-shirt. They aren’t prepared at all. They’re just very, very lucky,” he says. Yet while Judd has watched interest in his full-day crash courses decline over the years, survival skills are as important as ever, especially as weather patterns change, record droughts scorch the country and superstorms of the century seem to churn up annually.

“You don’t have to be out in the middle of nowhere to use these skills,” adds Kyle Cole—or “Kyle in the Wild” as he’s called—fulltime faculty at Central New Mexico’s Emergency Medical Services program and former member of the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue. “If we look at what happened with Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, some of the basic principles exist even if you are in the middle of the city. You’ve got to have the resources to know how to make it through,” Cole says. Good advice. Whether you’re trapped in the high desert or the Desert Inn, here are three basics you should know to answer the call of the wild:      

1. Always Leave a Note
“One of the biggest things we can do is leave a piece of paper on our dashboard saying, ‘This is who I am, this is the equipment that I have, this is where I’m going,’” Cole says. Your car is typically the starting point for a search and rescue team. While most search and rescues last only 72 hours, it can be even shorter if you stay put and a team has a general idea of where you are—so help them out as much as you can.

2. Shelter
“People talk about food. That’s actually lower on the priority [list], after shelter,” Cole says. “The No. 1 killer in the outdoor environment is not being able to regulate your body temperature.” To stay warm, find as low-altitude a shelter as possible. In the Southwest, the higher you climb, the colder it gets—1,000 feet can add four degrees. Also, make sure that shelter doesn’t have a tin roof. As Judd warns his students, New Mexico has the highest rate of lightning deaths per capita in the country.  

3. Dig for Wood, Climb for Water
Fire and water are two essentials. Fire can provide warmth, scare away animals and send a signal to rescue teams of your location. Water kind of speaks for itself. Judd’s motto is “dig for wood, climb for water.” Low-lying cactus and yucca roots are a good source of fire fuel, especially in the desert. And the higher you go, the more moisture you can find from snow and rain accumulation. For Judd, taking his survival course is all about getting hands on. “It’s a confidence builder,” he says. Although Judd and Cole’s survival workshops last only one day, an education isn’t over after that. “It’s just like cooking or golf,” Cole says. “You’ve got to practice.”

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